Zucchini shriveling on vine

How to Pollinate Zucchini by Hand

I’ve heard from many gardeners over the years when their zucchini plants drop their blossoms before setting fruit or when the new fruit dries up. It’s alarming, but it’s not unusual. Many plants drop their blossoms, but because zucchini blossoms are so large, they’re more noticeable.

Blossoms drop differently, depending on whether they’re a male or female flower. Male flowers drop when they shed their pollen; female flowers drop if they’re not pollinated.

Early in the season, zucchini (and other plants like cucumbers) may produce a dozen or more blooms, but these are usually the male flowers, the ones with the pollen, Without female flowers, there isn’t a need for the pollen.

Sometimes female flowers bloom before the male flowers, so there’s no pollen available. Without pollination, the female flowers will dry up and fall off.

Weather plays a role in pollination, too. If the weather isn’t dry and warm enough, bees might not be around to help move pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. Other reasons for plants dropping their blossoms include too little or too much water and poor soil conditions.

Have you noticed poor fruit set on your zucchini plants? If so, you may need to start pollinating by hand. Here’s how:

  1. Start early in the morning when pollen is available. Locate freshly opened male and female flowers. (Male flowers are the ones with short stems; female flowers are the ones with longer stems and a zucchini fruit shape at their base.)
  2. Clip off a male flower and remove the petals.
  3. Gently touch or roll the pollen from the male flower onto the stigma in the center of the female flower. (If you prefer, you can also leave the male flower in place and use a cotton swab or small paintbrush to make the pollen transfer.)
  4. Repeat the process on other zucchini plants.

Before long, you’ll have to get busy and use your hands in another way–to start picking the bushels of fruit and using them in the kitchen.

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Vegetables that are actually FRUITS – how many can you guess?

It’s very common to think of fruits as ‘sweet’ things and vegetables as ‘savoury’. But botanically speaking, it’s not always that straight forward. So, how can you tell if a vegetable is actually a fruit?

A fruit is actually something that produces seeds inside. The seed develops from the ovary of a flowering plant, Vegetables on the other hand come from the leaves, roots and stems – but not the fruit that emerges from the flower.

This in fact means that quite a number of foods that we think of as vegetables are actually fruits!

How many fruits do you know that think they are vegetables?

OK – just for fun – no peeking – close your eyes and think of all the ‘vegetables’ you know that are actually fruits?

Then scroll down and see how many you guessed correctly…

Fruits that think they are vegetables

1. Tomato

Let’s start with this easiest first. Tomato is that one ‘fruit’ which most people get! It is most certainly a fruit – a very popular one at that. This delightful food originally started out as a bitter fruit aeons ago, growing wild in the coastal desserts of South America. Over the years, more sweeter varieties evolved and were favoured, becoming the tomatoes we know today. These days they grow all over the world in a variety of colours and sizes.

2. Cucumber

Cucumbers are actually part of the cucurbit family (see Pumpkin & Squash below), but, given their popularity I thought they deserved a mention of their own. These salad ‘fruits’ come in different varieties. Some are tough and bitter, others are soft skinned and gently sweet, whilst some are better suited to pickling.

3. Sweet Peppers, Chilli or Capsicum

Sweet bell pepper, chilli, capsicum are all part of the same family. Capsicums are essentially berries with a hollow interior, containing its seeds. Did you know that Columbus gave capsicum the name ‘pepper’ when he compared their spicy nature to black pepper? The original Aztec name was chilli. Peppers vary from mind-blowingly hot, to the sweet variety that we enjoy with salad.

4. Pumpkin & Squash

Part of the cucurbit family (which includes pumpkin, winter squash, summer squash, courgette/zucchini, cucumber, gherkin and melon), with a myriad of different varieties and properties. These ‘fruits’ grow from the flowers of a vine-like plant, that either trails along the ground or is trained up a trellis.

5. Olives

The olive is indigenous to the Eastern Mediterranean area and yes, you got it – is a fruit! Did you know that olives are exceedingly bitter right off the tree. In order to make them palatable, they need to be cured with water or a brine (made of salt & water or/ salt, vinegar & water) or just in salt. Curing helps to removes the oleuropein compound, which then in turn makes them tasty.

6. Aubergine or Eggplant

Either called aubergine or eggplant in the English language (depending on which part of the world you are in). Yes, the aubergine is also a fruit. Most commonly known for it’s dark, purple ‘aubergine’ colour, it comes in many different varieties, shapes and shades. Aubergine is the prime ingredient in the Middle Easter dip, baba-ganoush. Also makes a good substitute for meat, owing to it’s meaty-like texture.

7. Sweet corn

I was surprised to learn recently, that sweet corn is a fruit. It turns out that each tiny ‘grain’ on the ear of corn is indeed a fruit. Corn is typically yellow, although it also comes in white, blue, red and green varieties too.

8. Avocado

This well loved creamy delight is a fruit. The avocado originated in Central America and is actually a member of the laurel family. Did you know? Its original name ‘ahuacatl’ comes from an Aztec language (which sounds very similar to the Spanish word for avocado ‘aguacate’)… Ahuacatl means testicle – named after the shape of this fatty fruit.

9. Green beans

We’d be easily forgiven for not realising that green beans are fruits. They are born from the flower of a bean plant. Many of us eat the young pods with immature beans inside steamed, sautéed or even raw. However, if the beans are left to mature, then we are able to crack open the pods to find high-protein, hard beans (such as black beans or pinto beans). These beans can be stored over long periods of time. Mangetout (that produce flat pea pods), pea pods and runner beans are also in this category.

Any more?

Maybe you know some more? Be sure to let me know in the comments below if you do.

Is Zucchini A Fruit Or Vegetable

Some people wonder – is zucchini a fruit or a vegetable? – and the answer will likely surprise you.

Is Zucchini a Fruit or Vegetable?

Zucchini is technically a fruit, although it is treated and widely referred to as a vegetable. As per USDA, it is listed under “Vegetables and Vegetable Products” Food group. When zucchinis develop, however, they form from an overgrowth of the zucchini flower, and is botanically classified as a berry. Any fruit is classified as the ripened ovary of a flower that contains the seeds for the plant. A vegetable, on the other hand, must be an edible plant part, such as the roots, stems, leaves or tubers of a plant. Based on these definitions, zucchinis are botanically considered fruits.

That being said, the majority of people treat and think of zucchinis as vegetables, perhaps because of their resemblance to cucumbers (which is also technically a fruit), or possibly due to how they are used in cooking.

Unlike most fruits, zucchinis hold up very well when baked, roasted, fried or seared, as are most other vegetables. They are chopped up for salads and used in stir-fries. Thus, while zucchinis are technically and botanically fruits, most of the world will continue thinking of – and using – zucchinis as vegetables.

I heard something the other day that actually blew my mind…

A pepper is considered a fruit.

Crazy, right?! That’s not the only thing that shocked me though. So are avocados…and tomatoes…and a whole list of other things that I have been living my whole life thinking were vegetables. If you are ready to have your mind blown, listen up to the science behind what determines a fruit from a vegetable.

First you need to ask yourself this question…”Does it have seeds?” If the answer is yes, botanically – and technically – you have yourself a fruit. Seeds are typically thought of as small, but this isn’t the case all of the time. You know the pit of an avocado? Well that pit is a seed, making an avocado a fruit. Same goes for olives. To summarize, a fruit is part of the plant or tree that we eat, which develops from a flower and contains seeds.

Vegetables on the other hand are either the leaf, root, stem or flower bud from a plant or tree, and do not contain seeds. Vegetables are more obvious to pick out, and include things like Broccoli, Cauliflower, Celery, Carrots, etc…

For a fun fact of the day, or to solidify your knowledge when discussing fruits and vegetables, I wanted to share the below lists with you all as I find them quite interesting.

Typical Veggies: Lettuce (Kale, Spinach, etc…), Beets, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Carrots, Potatoes, Celery, Cabbage

Another thing I couldn’t believe made the fruit list are nuts. Nuts are technically a fruit that is made up of a hard shell and a seed. Never ever did I think these delicious snacks classified as a fruit. So crazy!

What surprised you all the most?

More food posts from the BLDG 25 Blog.

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Q: For the past few years, I have grown zucchini plants that have not produced any fruit. What am I doing wrong?

—Myrald Cantley

A: I asked Myrald several other follow-up questions:

Did you fertilize? Did you get flowers? The plants were fertilized. The bed planted with marigolds. The plants produced plenty of flowers but they dropped off and produced no fruit.

I have heard from other gardeners that zucchini, usually one of the most productive plants in the garden, is producing few if any squash this year.

Although the plants were fertilized, I can eliminate one of the usual suspects, too much nitrogen. Excess nitrogen, usually from overzealous use of high nitrogen fertilizers, produces lush growth and few if any flowers.

The next suspect is lack of pollination. Zucchini produce male and female flowers. The male flowers appear first to assure a source of pollen when the female flowers are ready. The bulge below the base of the flower easily differentiates female flowers from the male ones.

That is the unfertilized potential fruit.

Myrald has made an effort to attract pollinating bees to the plot by adding marigolds, a traditional bee attracting plant to the zucchini bed. So attracting pollinators should not be a problem unless:

•Somewhere nearby, not necessarily in this garden, someone is using insecticides and killing off the local pollinators.

•Extremely high daytime temperatures and no substantial cooling can cause plants, even zucchini to drop blossoms.

•Weather conditions can affect pollination. Zucchini pollen is sticky and heavy, requiring insect or manual pollination — they are not wind pollinated. Humid and rainy weather, an apt description of the last few weeks makes the pollen clump and decreases chances of pollination.

So, besides hoping for better weather, what can a gardener do?

Continue to plant pollen and nectar plants to attract and feed pollinators. Avoid the use of pesticides, particularly those affecting bees. Hand-pollinate the female flowers.

Hand pollination is work-intensive but not difficult. First, know that the male flowers open early in the morning and last but a day. They will begin to appear up to a week before the female flowers. As mentioned above, identify the female flowers by the small bulge just below the base of the flower. Use a brush, cotton swab, finger or the anthers of the male flower to transfer the sticky pollen onto the central portion of the female plant.

Q: I was wondering if you can tell me what would cause black spots on the peaches of a tree in my yard. I have only one and this is the second year it is blooming.

—Darryl Bodo

A: I have found information on two potential suspects, peach scab and bacterial spot. According to my research they are often confused.

Scab, caused by a fungus, appears as small olive-green spots when the fruit is about half grown. The spots normally cluster on the upper portion of the fruit. They eventually turn brown and take on a velvet-like appearance. The fruit may be malformed or dwarfed and there are usually spots and holes on the leaves and the twigs. This problem is treated in the spring when the flowers have dropped.

Application of a fungicide specifically designated for peach scab immediately after flowering may help but in areas of heavy infection, treatment may need multiple applications until the fruit is about a month away from harvest.

Bacterial spot is, as the name implies, a bacterial infection that increases in years where there is frequent rainfall in the three to four weeks after the blossoms fall. The surface of the fruit becomes dotted with brown to black spots and the fruit may crack. Some varieties are more susceptible to the disease than others: Autumnglo, Babygold 5, Redhaven, California white-fleshed varieties, and nectarines — according to an IPM Guideline website from Cornell Cooperative Extension Services (http://ipmguidelines.org/TreeFruits/content/CH14/default-1.asp).

Warm weather, wet years, sandy soils and windy sites also increase chances of infection. Plums and apricots also carry the disease and can transmit it to nearby peach trees. Spraying with copper sulfate as the buds open in the spring can offer some relief but will not eliminate the problem.

For a single tree, as in the reader’s question, I would probably replace the tree with a resistant variety if it has bacterial spot.

Peach scab is also a work-intensive problem but if you really must have peaches, go the fungicide route.

In the Garden

August, with its record-breaking rainfall, humid, hot weather, earthquake and hurricane, is finally over. That means it must be fair week. Consider an outing to the Allentown Fair (www.allentownfairpa.org/) this weekend and go to the agricultural area. See what your neighbors are growing, get closer to the food chain and see the cows, pigs, poultry and more before you enjoy the midway food and rides.

Sue Kittek is a freelance garden writer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, P.O. Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.

This Week in the Garden

•Start pansy seeds to transplant in fall and bloom in early spring.

•Check fall tools; replace or mend as needed.

•Send winter equipment for servicing or purchase replacements.

•Sow seeds that need a cold period for germination, poppies, for example.

•Drain containers of standing water, breeding ponds for mosquitoes.

•Asters and mums are starting to appear on the market. Start thinking about adding to your fall display, either in the garden or as part of a container display.

•Hold off planting perennials, shrubs and trees. Gather unplanted pots together and water regularly until cooler fall/late summer weather.

•Harvest regularly, at least every other day.

•Remove spent plants and compost healthy ones. Do not put diseased or infested plants in the compost pile. Check for pests, fungus and disease; early control is the key to success.

•Plant leafy greens for salads this fall.

•Order garlic and spring-flowering bulbs, flower and fruit plants, and shrubs for fall planting. Shop nurseries for new fall arrivals.

•Purchase seed for planting or overseeding lawns.

•Start easing plants indoors; be sure to get them inside before you turn on heating system for the season.

•Water any newly planted trees or shrubs any week when we receive less than an inch of rain. Regular watering is essential as the plants settle in and reestablish their roots.

Flowers but No Fruit? Try Hand Pollination.

Do your fruit-bearing plants produce lots of beautiful flowers but little or no, eh, fruit? This is one of the most common (and most frustrating) problems that plagues gardeners today, especially in urban environments. It’s also often misdiagnosed.

So what gives?

The culprit is pollination—or rather the lack thereof due to declining pollinator populations. Did you know about 1/3 of our food is a direct result of pollination, which is mostly achieved by honey bees? That’s right. I’m talking about those small, striped, stinging arthropods that sent you swollen and screaming when you got a little too curious about their hive as a child. (No? Just me?)

Yes, it turns out bees are actually our friends. But in the last 70 years, we’ve lost 3.5 million honey bee colonies. Not good.

Attributed to parasites, disease, pesticide exposure and other factors—the decline in pollinator populations has become a serious problem. How serious? Well, President Obama created a “Pollinator Health Task Force.” And some of the most brilliant minds are exploring the idea of artificial bees.

No, seriously. Scientists at Harvard and Northeastern University are building “robobees” to help with crop pollination (and then world domination?!).

But until these penny-sized robotic pollinators hit the market, you may need to resort to hand pollination, also known as manual or mechanical pollination.

Tower Tip: Hand pollination is pretty easy, but it’s always nice to have help. Consider growing flowers to attract honey bees and other pollinators.

Do You Need to Hand Pollinate?

You should probably hand pollinate if:

  • You don’t see bees or other insects hovering around your flowering plants
  • You’re growing indoors, in a greenhouse or on a screened-in porch
  • Your plants produce fruit that shrivels and dies before maturing

Even with healthy pollinator activity, you may consider hand pollinating simply to prevent cross-pollination between similar plants. This is important if you want to save seeds from your garden to grow more of the same plant—a common practice for heirloom varieties.

Tower Tip: Learn more about the differences between heirlooms and hybrids in this post about seeds.

Top Techniques for Hand Pollination

When it comes to pollination, there are two types of plants: those with self-fertile flowers and those with separate male and female flowers. Watch the following video (or read below) to learn how to hand pollinate each type.

How to Pollinate Self-Fertile Plants
Self-fertile (sometimes called “self-pollinating” or “self-fruitful”) plants include:

Use a small paintbrush to stimulate pollen release for self-fertile plants like tomatoes.

The flowers of these plants have all the necessary parts to produce fruit. So hand pollination is not usually necessary if you’re growing outdoors, as even a slight gust of wind can often facilitate pollination. But for good measure, here are two ways you can pollinate a self-fertile plant:

  • Carefully shake the plant or blow on its flowers to stimulate pollen release; or
  • Gently swab the inside of each flower with a small paintbrush or cotton swab to transfer pollen into the pistil (middle part of the flower).

How to Pollinate Plants with Separate Male and Female Flowers
Plants that produce separate male and female flowers on the same plant include

  • Cantaloupes
  • Cucumbers
  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Watermelons
  • Zucchini

In order for these plants to produce fruit, pollen from a male flower must make its way to a female flower. So naturally, these crops tend to struggle with pollination more than self-fertile plants.

Typically, male flowers (which have slender stalks and pollen-laden stamens) bloom first. These fall off a few days after blooming. After a couple weeks, you should start to see female flowers (which usually have small budding fruits at the base).

Cucurbit plants like squash, cucumbers and others produce separate male and female flowers.

It’s easiest to pollinate early in the morning when the blooms are open, using the following techniques:

  • Swab the inside of the male flower with a small paintbrush or cotton swab, and then swab the inside of the female flower to transfer the pollen; or
  • Pick a male bloom, peel off its petals, and lightly dust pollen onto the pistils of the females with the male stamen.

Next Steps

For best results, you should hand pollinate every few days or until you begin to see fruit. If you don’t see fruit after a week or so, the problem may actually be something else, such as a lack of light or extreme temperatures.

Otherwise, that’s really all there is to it! If you have any questions, please leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help.

Happy growing!

Zucchini fruit not growing very big

My zucchini has been doing pretty well. I’ve gotten a few fruits off of it. Problem is, they aren’t growing all that big. They get to about five to six inches long and just stop growing. Also, two of them have had the flower not fall off cleanly, but instead just the outer part of the flower, and then the part that gets fertilized remains attached, but looks kinda black and slimy. I cut into one of these, and it didn’t show any rot inside, but the texture was a little off inside (not sure how to explain this, almost a little fibrous maybe, rather than smooth, but fibrous doesn’t quite hit it either. It looked very close to normal, so I want to emphasize that it was a very very slight difference).
Anyway, the others have come off normal and been fine, but for some reason they stop growing at five to six inches. I thought they were supposed to be harvested at six to ten inches, so it seems odd that they stop growing.
I have a ton of females. I’ve had as many as three to four actual squash growing at the same time, with many immature females still growing close behind.
We’ve had a lot of heat the past few days, and I have been trying to keep up with the watering. I water them at least once a day. They are growing in a 2 cf soil bag, BTW. I noticed a couple of fading leaves, so I figure the heat is affecting the plant. It’s been in the 90s. Could it be possible they need more water? I just fed them today, because I thought maybe that was part of the issue.
Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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